I graduated in 2012 with a B.S. Agronomy from West Virginia University. While attending school, I worked on the University Organic Farm where I began questioning the modern approach to food production. Through the guidance of a few professors there, I began independently researching the plants I was learning about, specifically the weeds. This was my rabbit hole into the world of herbalism & wild harvesting my own food & medicine. I led my first plant walk there in 2012. Over the next few years, I helped establish several gardens for the local community. In 2015, I moved to Asheville, NC & within 6 months I was enrolled in the first ever Wild Foods Teacher Training program with local foraging company, No Taste Like Home. As one of 4 graduates, this is where I truly honed my skills as a naturalist & wilderness educator, with over 300 hours of curriculum including hands-on experience identifying, harvesting, preparing, & teaching wild foods. Over the last decade, with my own independent research, formal training, guiding & teaching, attending workshops & continued education, I can safely, & proudly say that I have over 1000 hours of experience in my field.
- why is this your passionate pursuit?
Some of my earliest, most vivid memories are walking through my grandfather's garden, harvesting onions & tomatoes with his guidance. From early childhood, I have always felt most connected with myself & the world around me in the quiet moments alone, under, or, in a tree... I remember climbing up a huge tree in my childhood backyard & talking with her, thanking her for the strong branches, reveling in her majestic stature, & pondering life's mysteries. From a quiet place way up high, I realized how small I am, & overcome with feeling that there was more to life than what I had previously believed, it was there that I found a deeper meaning in my life. As a young adult, that pattern would continue, with some of my most deeply connected & purposeful moments being the times when i would lay under the trees, looking up, noticing their symmetrical structure, the patterns that seemed so prevalent in nature, the perfect example of balance, strength & virtue. Continuing on through high school, in a culture where the next step was college, I was faced with the question, “what do you want to be?” Graduation seemed so far away, yet that questioned loomed on in the back of my mind…
Getting my driver's license was a transformational step in my life, as I was for the first time able to travel places I had never before known to exist. Growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this was a huge step because up to that point, I had been shopping without the guidance of my mother, who always led that experience.
It was by some miracle, in the form of my gay gothic friend who shared their Tea Tree Shampoo with me, that I first heard of a magical place called “ The East End Food Co-Op.” It was here that I experienced some of my first solo shopping adventures. Unhindered by the burden of the suburban life of scheduled appointments & errands, I spent hours browsing the shelves & seeing for the first time thousands of products made with higher integrity than what I formally knew existed. On my first trip to the Co-Op, I stumbled upon Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. This was not the Tea Tree Shampoo i was seeking, but after reading the bottle from top to bottom, I decided this product was worth my time & money. I felt my life profoundly changed from that moment on. I spent the last year of High School & my two years at Community College reading ingredient labels, asking my mom about the integrity of our dinner, & slowly transforming the way I shopped, ate, & thought about food. I eventually started my first solo garden, inspired largely by my Italian immigrant neighbor’s backyard permaculture landscape. Eventually, my passion for good quality food, growing it myself, & doing it in a good way, without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, led me to West Virginia University where i majored in Agronomy, the science of field crops. Truth be told, in high school, I stumbled across a book, “The Emperor Wears No Clothes,” by Jack Herer in which he explained how our country had slowly & surreptitiously shifted from plant based, renewable, cellulosic resources towards not so renewable, often toxically produced petroleum based products & fuels that were controlled in a monopolistic fashion by big business & glad handed politicians willing to create legislation to favor the petroleum based economy in which we now collectively find ourselves dependent upon. There is a lot more to the story, but this story of convenience interwoven with petroleum dependency is a large part of why we, as a species, are now facing self destruction via climate change & the global “plastic pollution pandemic.”
Eventually at WVU, my agronomy major became valuable in giving me the opportunity to work at the university organic farm, where I began questioning agricultural practices that included heavy tilling, weeding & the use of pesticides, & synthetic fertilizers. It turns out that most of the weeds in agriculture are actually the plants with the highest nutritional & environmental value. Under the guidance of a witty, experienced, lifelong agrarian, Professor Bryan, I was set on my path towards my true passion of wild harvesting my own food & medicine. I led my first plant walk with a group of willing friends in 2012. Needless to say it was a little rough, but I never gave up, & looking back it was a huge success. The fact that anyone was willing to trust me, & make time to experience weeds through my eyes & words was enough to convince me that I needed to refine this skill.
Over the next few years I continued to learn more plants & mushrooms, harvesting & preservation methods, & spent more & more time outside in the fields & forests developing my skills & knowledge of living in harmony with the planet & her natural systems. Eventually, I made it to Asheville, NC & within months of living there, with encouragement of a friend that truly believed in me, I registered for the first ever “Wild Foods Teacher Training Program” with local company No Taste Like Home, founded by local mushroom man, Alan Muskat. I gleaned all I could from the program, its various guest instructors, & hands-on experience teaching as an assistant guide for dozens of plant walks that summer.
Since 2017, I have been leading my own plant walks on a consistent basis, sometimes getting paid, but mostly hosting free walks to the community & any who would come, simultaneously refining my skill & developing my own take on what a plant walk is & can be. Sometimes a teacher, but always a student, I continue my journey as a naturalist & guide in the Asheville area, at your service & more importantly, in service of something greater…
In service of the web of life - to which we all belong, indivisibly interconnected & interdependent upon each other, all equally important, all one together, all made of the same stuff, all pieces of the puzzle, the plants & creatures of our amazing planet, Earth.
So, won’t you come on a walk with me?